Dialogue of life
Fr Dr. Piotr Gasior talked to Rev. Prof. Krzysztof Koscielniak
REV. DR. PIOTR GASIOR: - A basic question: Is in your opinion the dialogue between Christianity and Islam possible at all?
REV. PROF. KRZYSZTOF KOSCIELNIAK: - Of course, it is, but one must notice the difference between the religious dialogue and the dialogue of life. In my opinion the religious dialogue is not possible but the dialogue of life is not only possible but also mostly recommended. Why is the religious dialogue not possible? Well, from the beginning there has been a theological conflict between Christianity and Islam. Muhammad acted as a prophet and he thought that Christianity and Judaism had preceded his new religion. Thus Muslims believe that all other prophets were simply Muhammad's predecessors. That's why Islam respects the biblical prophets. But Christians cannot accept that Muslims think Christ is not God. Therefore, we cannot overestimate, as some scientists in the field of Oriental studies do, the fact that Islam respects Christ and the Koran has nice words about him. One can speak about some person nicely but incorrectly. According to Christians the Koran does not speak the truth about Jesus. We believe that Christ is the ultimate Word of God, the sacraments flow from Christ's wounds and the Church originates from his wounds. The Divinity of Christ is the sense of being Christian. Therefore, in his book 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope' John Paul II says that Islam reduced the Christian Revelation.
So we have two opposite kinds of thinking: Christianity proclaims that Christ is God - the one who does not recognize that Jesus is God is not a Christian; whereas Islam denies that Jesus is God. If a Muslim says that Christ is God he is not a Muslim any longer because the Koran often repeats that Christ is in God only like Adam is, i.e. Christ is an ordinary man. In the religious dialogue between Islam and Christianity there is some 'argument about Christ'. One can say that either Christ is God or he is not. However, one cannot reach a compromise and create a transitory form, as some think it is possible, of some half-god. It is true, we need a thorough presentation what one party and the other party believe in. But this is not a religious dialogue. What can we do in this situation? We have the sphere of the dialogue of life.
- What is this dialogue of life about?
- I am astonished that so little is spoken about it because in general the dialogue of life should be the subject of most discussions. And we do not mean to impose some alien Western democracy on Muslims, democracy that is not ideal, but we mean to implement the principle of reciprocity and justice. If Muslims enjoy full freedom in the Western world we are right to expect the same freedom for Christians in the Muslim countries. If the contemporary Catholic Church tries to face the truth about herself we would like to hear about a critical approach towards the history of the Islamic conquests. If Christians want to carry out missions in peace (and justify defensive wars) they can expect the wide Muslim circles to make more effort to spread only the spiritual peaceful dimensions of their religion.
Therefore, Christians hope to have greater actions of Muslim theologians and thinkers aiming at eliminating the ideology of violence and granting full tolerance to Christians in the Islamic countries. It is not a secret that in numerous Muslim countries Christians are some second category citizens, without full rights and freedom of worship. In the Sudan the Muslim fundamentalists murdered about 2.5 million Catholics! I did not see any Muslims' protests in other Islamic countries, which would be a reaction to that organized genocide (there might have been protests). The reports of various international organisations on the alleged fulfilment of human rights in the world of Islam are horrifying. Except for Syria and Lebanon all Islamic countries are mentioned.
- Have the years of the dialogue with Muslims yielded no fruit at all?
- Naturally, there are some successes although they are small as some 'dialogists', practicing a specific propaganda of success, say. Firstly, I would like to stress that many Muslims are friendly towards visitors, have a good sense of humour and hospitality. But some duality also exists. I often experience great hospitality of Muslims but many a time the same people did not want to hear about the possibility of granting Christians the same rights as far as the question of mixed marriages is concerned. They also refuse to grant Muslims the freedom to choose other religion than Islam. On the contrary, some are in favour of the death penalty for any Muslim who chooses Christianity.
Surely, the picture of every Muslim as a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a killer is not true. And not every fundamentalist is a terrorist! Nevertheless, fundamentalism does not favour dialogue. Fundamentalism is relatively strongly rooted in the Muslim society, but in particular countries it exists in various proportions. In Egypt the fundamentalists constitute about 20 %, in Syria practically none, whereas in the Sudan, Mauritania or Pakistan they are in majority. Moreover, one should consider the fact that Islam is not a monolith like Catholicism. Therefore, one should speak about 'Islams' and not Islam. This religion has different faces in different countries. Among the Muslims there are authors who are open to dialogue, for example the Egyptian thinker Hasan Hanafi claimed, having analysed the present-day situation in the Islamic countries, that 'from the historical point of view we are living in the 20th century although from the point of view of our awareness we are in the 15th century'. However, although some Muslims want to begin a dialogue, generally speaking it is assumed that the openness of the Church does not translate into practice for the Muslims' part. In many Islamic countries the situation of Christians is worse that 25 years ago.
- It is possible that the Western experts in dialogue with Islam have made some mistake. Do you think that there is some misunderstanding in the Muslim-Christian dialogue and if there is, where?
- The mistake is in practising certain theology of dialogue instead of dialogue in the truth. There are no doubts whatsoever that dialogue is the only means to peaceful co-existence of people in the pluralistic world. For the last twenty years there has been a phenomenon for the part of Christians, which I would call 'a ideology of dialogue'. This ideology of dialogue is based on some indefinite meaning of the word 'dialogue'. Thus some experts, the so-called experts in dialogue, have allowed for some specific devaluation of the word by naming all forms of inter-personal contacts 'a dialogue' (as if there were no other words, for example a meeting, a discussion, a talk, negotiations, etc.), and first of all, by avoiding difficult subjects and finding common elements where there are no such elements. In brief, they have created some reality that does not take into account facts and realities of the world. Selecting comfortable subjects has led to creating whole spheres that demand urgent discussions now.
In the sphere of the Christian-Muslim dialogue the issues of the sacred war and the lack of tolerance for Christ's followers in many Islamic countries are such neglected subjects. Too little time has been devoted to these topics, and instead commonly known elements, which do not need serious discussions, have been in focus. The reason could be that some dialogue experts, living in Europe, look at the world of Islam through the prism of the West and some of them conduct an uncritical apology for this religion even at the cost of the truth. Of course, such attitudes constitute one of the biggest obstacles in the Christian-Muslim dialogue. They arise suspicion of many Christians because nobody wants to be hurt by one-sided dialogue. I want to repeat: one should strive to stop this ideology of dialogue and pass to the concretes of dialogue.
- What is then the foundation of inter-religious dialogue?
- The foundation of dialogue is the truth. It can be unpleasant to one or the other party, it can raise controversies and even polemics, but it must be systematically presented or sought. Contemporary Christians want to live 'side by side' with Muslims in peace, without prejudices and inciting wars. But one cannot hide the truth, both the truth about the past and the truth about the present.
A. Wegner, the German officer who witnessed the cruel massacre of Armenians by Muslim Turks in the year 1915, said in 1968 that the Shoah would have not happened if those Turks, who were guilty of killing 1.5 million Christians, had been condemned and punished. Their impunity began the process of Europe's callousness to crimes. Today, after many experiences of the 20th century, one cannot allow a situation where Christians living in the Muslim countries would be offered 'on the altar of some dim dialogue' by their fellow brothers living comfortably in the Western countries.